Today I wanted to write about CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. The Chamber oversees the Leadership McKean program, and two years ago one of our groups did a project on the need for having CASA in our county.
Today we were at the court house as Judge Chris Hauser swore in nine CASA volunteers. As I was sitting and listening, I thought this would be a great time to tell you all about the program.
First, I want to thank that Leadership McKean project group that led the way. They are Kelly Compton, Barbie Cummings, Ashley Carlson, Chris Forbes, Lindsey Mapes and Karl Ross, who all were present for today’s ceremony.
What does a CASA volunteer do?
CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court and other settings. The primary responsibilities of a CASA volunteer are:
Gather information: Review documents and records, interview the children, family members and professionals in their lives.
Document findings: Provide written reports at court hearings.
Appear in court: Advocate for the child’s best interests and provide testimony when necessary.
Explain what is going on: Help the child understand the court proceedings.
“Be the glue”: Seek cooperative solutions among individuals and organizations involved in the children’s lives. As one
volunteer said: Be the glue that connects the pieces in a complicated child welfare system.
Recommend services: Ensure that the children and their family are receiving appropriate services and advocate for those that are not immediately available. Bring concerns about the child’s health, education, mental health, etc. to the appropriate professionals.
Monitor case plans and court orders: Check to see that plans are being followed and mandated review hearings are being held.
Keep the court informed: Update the court on developments with agencies and family members. Ensure that appropriate motions are filed on behalf of the child so the court knows about any changes in the child’s situation.
That is the short version, but as you can see, this could really impact the life of a foster child.
Here is a story about a young man in Beaumont, Texas who was a foster child and had a CASA volunteer:
Today, Ryan is 26 years old. He has left Foster Care Alumni and the speaking circuit and settled down in Beaumont, TX. He works as an insurance agent with Farmers Insurance, and goes to college full time. In August 2014, he completed his bachelor’s degree in social work, and plans to pursue a master’s program in public administration at Lamar University. And he is a recent newlywed.
Ryan says that none of these accomplishments—and those yet to come—would have been possible without the support of his CASA volunteer and the CASA program staff in Beaumont.
“CASA is my lifesaver. I would have been lost in foster care. There are so many kids, and not so many social workers. There were times that I didn’t hear from my social worker for three or more months. But I always heard from CASA.
To this day, I am still close with my CASA volunteer and case supervisor, as well as other staff and even board members. I have a whole cheerleading squad—and they are all affiliated with CASA. I would be a different person today if I hadn’t had that support system, that positive group of folks telling me, ‘Ryan, you can go to college, you will be a good husband, a good father. You don’t have to be afraid to have a child. Ryan, you are a good person.’
I can never pay CASA back for everything they have done for me.”
How impactful is that message from Ryan? We are so happy that Leadership McKean and the project group I mentioned above set the ground work for CASA here in McKean County.
CASA now has an Executive Director Kristen Tim, a Board of Directors, nine new volunteers, and the backing of Judge John Pavlock, Judge Christopher Hauser and the McKean County Commissioners.
If you are interested in being a volunteer, contact Kristen at 814-887-4029.
See you in two weeks!